Ink printing very dark, not matching PMS.

Well, after lurking for ages, I figure now that I’m actually printing something (and of course having an issue), that I should probably create and account and post up.

We’re laying down a baby announcement for a friend of ours, and have 2 custom-mixed PMS colors (one from NA graphics, the other from Boxcar, both mixed by the vendors).
Rubber based Van-Son inks.

The press, a Kelsey 5x8 “U” is running great… Good, even coverage, nice impression, i mean… it’s running perfectly.

Only issue we are having is that the “baby blue” PMS2915 that we ordered is looking SUPER dark… It’s in the reflex blue range… And the PMS469 brown is looking BLACK.

Is there some sort of process i’m not following to use these inks properly?

Any help or insight is greatly appreciated.

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Hi Ctiani,

Do they look this dark in the can or when you actually print? I would try printing one or two or just rolling ink on one of them and hand stamping to see what the color will look like on the paper. Also are you printing on bright white paper or colored/natural colored paper that may affect the color as well. The ink in the can I have found usually looks darker than what it prints. I also us a kelsey 5x8 model U and love it but do have the same problem sometimes and find it is actually right when I print with the ink. (I mix my own colors tho, which is always an option).

Hope this helps and I am still relatively new to all this myself so maybe someone with a little more experience can help as well!

Jerp, thanks for the quick response.
I figured the same as well, so we did run some test prints. Both inks are printing a totally different color than what they were ordered and labeled as. I feel like there has to be something i’m not doing, or something i’m doing improperly… as what are the odds of both inks being mixed improperly (to the same degree of darkness no less) by two different professionals who mix ink on a frequent basis…

Do rubber-based inks need to be thinned or mixed or anything before using? I didn’t do any stirring or anything like that in the can, is this something that should be done?

Paper is pure white Reich Savoy 236#

Ctiani, these inks are meant for offset printing, which uses water in the process so when you use it on letterpress it always appears darker. Some colors are worse than others, i use 469 a lot, it prints great on an offset press but is very dark with letterpress. you can try mixing a little opaque white with the ink, try a small amount only don’t try to mix the whole can. Dick G.

You may simply have too much ink on the press. Try starting with just a tiny bit.


Offset not only uses water, but puts down a thinner deposit than letterpress, and since I’m guessing the inks are not 100% opaque on white, more ink means darker tone, right?


Do you have a close up photo?

This is often caused by having too much ink on the press as Brad mentioned, which is a common problem among beginners.

Does the print match your art proof in terms of line weight? Is it fat or muddy? If so, you most likely need to back off the ink, and then you may see a closer match to your PMS chip. We seldom have issues matching PMS whether it is right out of the can or self mixing via Pantone formula. Work your way up to the color.

I usually mix my own. Here, I “tap it out” with a very fine smear on a finger tip on a sheet of the job and look at it in a suitable light. The aim here is to approximate a fine roller coverage without having to run it up on a press. When mixing your own always start with the lightest colour first of course. If I can, I always like to have opaque white as the base as it gives a final ink which runs beautifully and is not influenced by the stock colour. With your ink I would do this- mix back to your shade and Hue, on a Opaque White base. Tap out at every stage and slowly!.\ This will get your colour lighter and Van son rubber base is very good ink to use too.

Thanks for all the responses folks,
In regards to have too much ink on press, I really feel like I had the ink ground out pretty thin. There are some pieces of my type that looked like they could actually use a little more ink. The design itself seemed to be holding line-weights perfectly. It’s actually quite intricate, so I would notice immediately if things were filling in or bleeding out.

A pic is attached of what we were test printing with.

One thing i did notice while running the press was that there was some ink building up on parts of the magnesium plate that weren’t type-high, especially near the top edge. Could the rollers be a little close? Could this cause an over-inking issue even though minimal ink is on the ink plate?

Thanks again!

Sorry for the cell-phone, but it works

image: testprint.jpg


Side note for the brown ink, I also did a test “smear” on the paper with my finger, and even the lightest point it was nowhere near the PMS color.

I think you are going to need to add opaque white ink, but the print seems to be wayoff in color but the white ink may help. I would say it is 50% too strong by the two samples. It is really going to be up to you to find the right formula. Do you have a PMS book? You could compare the swatch you have from the press and see if adding white would get you close or do you need a new batch.

2915 has 1.25 parts process blue/ .75 reflex blue and 14 parts transparent white.

From what I see you may have the base colors of 2935 which has no white just the two blues.

That is alot of white so you will not need very much of you base ink to make the correct color.

Another trick to keep ink color even on small forms is to have bearers in the form outside the paper area. These will help keep the ink and roller pressure even. These can be made with one size or furniture turned on it side to become type high or ruled or solid material type high. They would be locked in the chase running parallel to the bearers of the press. Hope this helps

Thanks for awesome response Colophon! I have plenty of type-high filler I can lock in with my plates. Seems like that might help out with some of the slightly uneven inking i’m getting. We’ll be ordering some opaque white tomorrow.

We’re only running off about 100 of these announcements, so I think a 1lb can of white should get us plenty for the next hundred years or so…

My pantone book is old but it says 2915U is 1 1/4 process blue (7.8) 3/4 reflex blue (4.7) 14 transparent white (87.5)

You need transparent white not opaque white. You will need to mix it at least 50-75% transparent white with your supplied mixed ink…IMHO

I’m still betting on too much ink. I’ve seen the same problem dozens of times and it’s almost always the same solution—proper combination of roller height and ink density.


I’m going to give it another shot before i start mixing ink for sure. The rollers seemed a bit low, i’m going to tape up the bearers a bit, use a teeny tiny nubbin of ink and see what I get.

probably still going to order the white ink just in case.

is there anyone that can give me an idea (i.e. shape or size) of exactly how little ink i SHOULD be using?
i tried to be very minimal on the last go-around…

If you look at a PMS book and order pre-made ink it is usually about 2 steps darker (more like 1.5) when you print it. We did a calendar job back in December and ended up mixing almost 50% white into ALMOST all of the colors.

Even small differences in how much ink you use can have a lot of impact on the tonal value.

A lot of times when we are printing a job on our Heidelberg and we want REALLY accurate color with good detail, we make the ink light, print it light and then run a second run to get the color right.

Two more tricks to check your ink color in the can. I think one was chatted but I will repeat it.

1.) Ink draw down or pull. Take a nickel size drop of ink onto the paper you are going to use. Using an ink knife cut the drop in half and pull it towards you until the ink runs out. This will give a good indication of the true color of the ink vs the mass tone.

2.) Tap out. Touch the ink with your finger tip and tap it out onto the paper. Slowly tap away from the first finger hit overlaping each time maybe 20 times until the ink is very light. The printing color will be somewhere between the first tap and the last.

I do not think that if you tap out the ink from the photo you will ever match the PMS swatch.

Hope this helps.

Oh and also if you use transparent ink it would take a ton of it to get that color to the proper shade. Opaque is the one you want.

One more comment from an old ink salesman/teacher: It was mentioned earlier about the fact that the inks you are buying have been formulated and mixed for offset, this alone requires colors to be made stronger for two reasons. One is that in offset there is water used in the process so the ink has to be stronger in color for that and in offset the ink film is split twice in the process, once from plate to blanket and again from blanket to paper.

A lot of info above, most of it very good. But just to clarify a few things:

How the ink looks in the can (or on the ink knife, rollers, etc.) has almost no relation to how it prints; it will virtually always look much darker than it will print. The simple fact is that the printing process puts down such a thin layer of ink that the white of the paper shows through the semi-transparent ink. It’s supposed to; the Pantone system is based on this, which is why PMS colors are normally made with transparent white rather than opaque white. (It also means the color will be off if you print on stock that’s not white!)

Therefore ink film thickness is critical to color appearance. And yes, letterpress normally does lay down a much thicker ink film than offset, but this will vary from press to press, job to job, and especially depending on the pressperson, so you have to learn what’s “typical” for you and your press. As has been advised, for letterpress, it’s usually best to choose a PMS color a shade or two lighter than you think you want. (BTW, the fact that offset uses water has no relation to this discussion; the water doesn’t “dilute” the ink color.)

Personally, I’ve found draw-downs somewhat unreliable for showing color, and tap-outs on uncoated stock always seem too dark; my recommendation is to do the tap-out on coated stock to see if the ink color matches the PMS swatch, but keep in mind the color may look different when printed on uncoated.

When mixing, always start with the lightest colors and add the darker; don’t add all the dark (especially if the formula calls for black) without mixing and testing by a tap-out on coated stock. In this case, get the white ink, and gradually add your 2915 or 469 until the tap-out looks correct, the challenge being to get your tap-out thickness the same as what you run on the press! Since you’re printing on white paper, it really doesn’t matter whether you use transparent white or opaque white; but why pay for the white pigment in opaque white ink just to cover up the white color of the paper? As long as you can print a consistent layer of ink, your color will be consistent also.

Dave (the Ink in Tubes guy)

Another technique beyond draw-down and tap-out is to brayer the ink onto a sheet of paper. That is, ink up a small Speedball-type brayer, then roll it down a sheet of paper until the ink is gone. You will see as the ink flm splits off progressively lighter shades of ink, and a general indication of how different loads of a given ink may print. However the abilty to carry smaller loads of ink on a press depends on a good inking system. A two-roller tabletop would need a lighter tint of the ink mix.

The reason for the opaque over the transparent is that you can see the results sooner and with less ink. It may also help trap a second color or print a closer pms match if printing on stocks that are not white. Yes, transparent ink can be used and should be in most cases when mixing.

Transparent white is the vehicle of modern printing inks. It has no color of its own. Adding more vehicle cuts the color value down, but doesn’t change a color. If you actually want to correct the color, cut it with opaque white. Opaque white is actually a color which when mixed in, enables you to lay down your ink heavily and stay on pms. When mixed correctly you can also double strike to create heavy solids without drastically increasing color value.

When mixing a pms color from scratch, transparent white as called for. To lighten an existing pms color, save time and materials and cut it with opaque white. The added opacity will make your color pop.

Thanks for all the incredible responses. I have a lot to try here, it’s exciting. We went with the opaque white for lightening this blue. I figured either would work, and that I would have more uses for the opaque white in the future.
Our plates for the announcement are on their way from Hodgins NY, and we’ll be running these next weekend. I’ll be sure to post up our results!

Having run a die-cutting press for a good while, my only real trouble area so far with this Kelsey is inking. This info is great. Hopefully this thread proves useful for other beginners!

Well, here she is…
Not bad registration for our first-ever run on the press.
Got a great impression, and excellent ink coverage. We did a little experimenting with mixing of the blue and opaque white, as well as double-hits…

Thanks again for all the help guys, hopefully I have a lot more pieces to post up in the future!

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